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April 5, 2011

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Industrial accidents more likely among night-shift workers

People on night shifts are three times more likely to suffer a work-related accident, and twice as likely to have a car accident on the way home from work, compared with their daytime colleagues.

These are the key findings from a study of more than 50 night workers, which saw researchers for The Young Foundation following and observing the workers, asking questions, and listening to their experiences.

Nearly 1.5 million people regularly work at night in the UK, and night-shift work has become an important part of the modern economy. However, the study has revealed “a vulnerable workforce, which is poorly supported, and whose members are – for the most part – unaware of the risks they face on a nightly basis”.

The report calls for tighter legislation to safeguard night workers, improved efforts to raise awareness of the health and safety risks among the workforce, and better quality data and research into night workers’ psychological needs.

According to the report, the Working Time Regulations classify night workers as those who regularly work at least three hours between 11pm and 6am, and restrict their shifts to an average of eight hours in each 24-hour period.

However, as this is averaged over a 17-week period, many people work night shifts of up to 12 or 13 hours at any one time. The Young Foundation wants changes to the Regulations so that night shifts are limited to a maximum of eight hours, along with clear guidelines on overtime.

A growing body of medical research has highlighted the potential health implications associated with working at night, including higher risks of developing breast and other forms of cancer. The HSE is due to report later in the year on its own investigation into the links between night work and breast cancer, but the Young Foundation believes more work is needed to publicise the wider health and safety risks of night-shift working to both employers and employees.

It wants the HSE, or a major trade union to support the development of an illustrated and accessible website, which brings together information and guidance for night workers and their employers so that the dangers associated with working at night can be better mitigated.

The research also shows that many health risks associated with night work are amplified by the unhealthy lifestyle choices being made, or effectively forced upon, night workers. The Foundation says more research is needed into the effect that night work can have on people’s psychological well-being and mental health.

Also including a section offering advice and tips for night workers, the report, Rough nights: The growing dangers of working at night can be downloaded at www.youngfoundation.org/publications-date

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